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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(57) by Samantha Young|
They stared each other down for a moment and then Braden muttered something under his breath and stepped back. Renewed respect for this woman took hold in me. She might be small but she was extremely fierce – the kind of friend everyone needed on their side.
When Joss had opened the door after I hammered on it for what felt like five minutes, she’d stared at me in shock for a second, standing there half asleep in pyjamas with her hair a wild mess around her shoulders. When I tripped towards her, my expression pained, dried blood crusted on my face and shirt, it was the first time I had real evidence of how deeply she cared about me. She pulled me inside and I felt her body trembling with anger as she helped me to the living room, her hoarse voice shouting to Braden for help.
I collapsed on their couch, exhaustion leaching all strength out of me now that I’d got to them. While Joss tried to clean the cut on my lip, I explained to them what had happened. Then Braden’s scary caveman threatening began.
‘Is it really bad?’ I asked Joss softly, my quaking fingers tentatively touching the area around my lip. It felt tender and swollen.
Joss scowled. ‘You’re lucky he didn’t knock out a tooth.’ She looked down at my left side. ‘You’ll need to have your ribs looked at.’
‘I don’t think they’re broken.’
‘Oh, are you a doctor now?’
‘Joss,’ I said with a sigh, ‘if you take me to the hospital there will be questions and police and I can’t have the social services looking into our situation right now. Mum is worse than ever. They might take Cole away.’
‘Jo, your mum can’t help her illness, and you’re there looking after him,’ Braden spoke up, his voice reassuring.
With my eyes I told Joss I thought she was amazing. She’d kept my secret and she’d even kept it from Braden. I appreciated it hugely, but I was more than a little tired of having the secret in the first place. As if it was something I should be ashamed of. ‘Braden, my mum doesn’t have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She’s a bedridden drunk.’
Other than the slight raising of his eyebrows Braden didn’t really react to the news. We sat in silence for a moment and then he stepped forward and lowered himself to the coffee table so he was sitting directly in front of me. For a moment I got lost in those concerned pale blue eyes of his. ‘I’ll have my family doctor look at you in the morning. He can be very discreet. Will you agree to see him?’
‘Yes, she will,’ Joss answered for me belligerently.
I wasn’t even looking at her and I could feel her eyes boring into me, daring me to defy her. I nodded at him and I felt the couch move as Joss slumped back with relief.
‘Before I see a doctor I need a plan.’ I glanced from Braden to Joss, desperation and determination vying for a place in my eyes. ‘I can’t let him near Cole.’
‘And he wants money from Malcolm?’ Joss curled her lip in disgust.
‘Why didn’t you go to Malcolm, then?’ she asked, more than a little curiosity in her voice. ‘He would give you it.’
‘He would,’ I agreed, my voice soft but laced with an edge. ‘But he’s from a life I don’t even recognize anymore, and I don’t want to go back there. Facing him, ensuring his loyalty, it means becoming someone else again. I can’t do that. I’m just “Jo” now. And I know I can’t do everything by myself any more.’ I gave her a wobbly smile. ‘Good thing I finally realized I have friends I can trust.’
Joss swallowed hard and reached for my hand, threading her fingers through mine. ‘You do.’ Her eyes turned ferocious as she looked over at Braden. ‘We’ll get him off your back. We’ll pay the a**hole to disappear.’
As I turned my head I caught Braden’s reluctant nod. Braden didn’t want to pay him back in money. He wanted to pay him back in blood.
The ache in my side and my battered pride made me tend to agree with Braden. Would money really keep Murray away or would he eventually come back for more? He’d always been like that when we were younger. He’d take whatever extra cash Mum had lying around, disappear for days on end, and then return home when he’d run out. The only time he ever disappeared completely was when Uncle Mick beat the crap out of him and started playing bodyguard arou –
‘Uncle Mick!’ I breathed the words in excited, sudden realization, my hand gripping Joss’s so hard it was probably painful.
‘Mick?’ Braden’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
I nodded. ‘Mick. I’m not letting you guys pay Murray. He’ll see that as weakness and he’ll come back for more. No.’ I looked at them, unable to smile in triumph because of the cut. ‘There’s only one person Murray Walker has ever been afraid of and he thinks that person is in the States.’
Braden smirked. ‘Mick.’
Turning to Joss, Braden nodded towards the door. ‘Come on, we’re getting dressed. We’re taking Jo to Mick and then Mick and I are paying Mr Walker a wee visit.’
‘No, Braden, I don’t want you –’
He held up a hand to quiet me. ‘I’m not going to fight him.’ His eyes darkened. ‘Mick and I will just have … a word with him.’
‘Shouldn’t we call Cam?’ Joss asked as she and Braden stood up.
Mention of his name shot pain far more excruciating than my physical wounds through my entire body. I felt my cheeks burn as I admitted softly, ‘I went to him first. He was a little preoccupied with Blair.’
They were both silent for a moment as my meaning registered with them, and then Braden bit out a curse. He grazed past Joss, squeezing her shoulder as he flashed her a wolfish grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘Better wrap my hand up. Looks like my fist will be meeting more than one face tonight.’ And with that pronouncement he strode out of the room, presumably to get changed.
I stared after him, wondering if he’d meant what I thought he’d meant.
Joss smiled weakly. ‘He’s kidding. Braden doesn’t fight. Well … normally …’ She raised an eyebrow in thought. ‘He is a little overprotective, though. And he definitely doesn’t like men who beat women and he doesn’t like cheaters … but he’s kidding …’ She turned her head to look at the door. ‘I think.’
The Caledonian was a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, so it was a nice place. To assure uninterrupted passage through it, Joss and Braden dressed well, and I huddled behind Joss for the entire walk across the quiet reception area. It was now four thirty in the morning. Braden gave the night receptionist a brisk, no-nonsense nod, and that together with his appearance – he was wearing a black Armani trench coat over his dress trousers and shirt – seemed to assure the receptionist that we belonged there.
Butterflies were in full riot in my stomach as we rode the lift up to the fourth floor. I felt guilty for dragging Joss, Braden and Mick into this mess, but I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for Cole, and I had a proven track record of acting selfishly when it came to protecting Cole. Lucky for me, Joss, Braden and Mick actually cared, and I knew that they would be doing this even if I hadn’t asked it of them.
As we stopped outside Mick’s hotel door, Braden knocked on it loudly and Joss put an arm around my shoulder and pulled me to her. It put pressure against my side and I winced, immediately rewarded with a rambling apology from Joss. It would have been funny how many times she called herself a dick if I hadn’t been trying to catch my breath.
The hotel door swung open and I was surprised to find Uncle Mick fully dressed and alert. His eyes narrowed in on me and I saw the muscles in his jaw working against his fury. ‘I’ve been trying to call you,’ he said tersely.
Confused, I blinked rapidly. ‘Um … my phone’s switched off.’ I’d turned it off when Cam had tried to call me again.
Mick nodded and then stepped back so we could enter his room. Braden led us in and stopped quite abruptly at the threshold. I knew why when I sidled up next to him with Joss.
Olivia and Cam were there.
Braden looked down at me, drawing my gaze. ‘I can hit him now if you want?’
I’m not going to lie – I seriously pondered the suggestion before finally saying with a sigh, ‘Not worth it.’
‘Jo?’ Cam asked hoarsely.
I looked at him and felt Joss’s hold on me tighten. Cam’s blue eyes searched my face and just like Mick’s had, his expression clouded over, undiluted rage sparking to life in his eyes. ‘Who the f**k did it?’ he asked between gritted teeth.
I didn’t answer his question. Having him here was incredibly painful. The anger he felt over my attack seemed fake in light of the fact that he’d cheated on me with Blair. ‘I want you to leave.’
Cam closed his eyes as if he was in pain. ‘Jo, please, what you saw …’
‘Jo.’ Olivia stepped forward. ‘Give him a chance to explain.’
‘Later,’ Mick snapped, his gold eyes fixated on my wounded mouth. ‘I want a name. Now.’ I gulped, feeling the threat of violence rise in the room. Not just from Mick – his anger was infecting Cam and Braden.
Mick’s nostrils flared at the name.
‘Dad did it,’ I clarified.
‘What?’ he yelled, his question muffled by Cam’s explosion of expletives.
Olivia strode between them, trying to calm them. ‘We’ll get thrown out of the hotel,’ she warned them. She turned to me. ‘Explain what happened.’
For the second time that night I related my tale, and when I was done the air was thick with testosterone. Cam finally couldn’t take it any more and he crossed the room, his shaking hand reaching to cup my chin. At the brush of his skin against mine, I tugged my head away, then grimaced at the sharp sting of pain in my neck from where I’d suffered whiplash from Murray’s attack.